Let's get caught up on Dortmund, which is now 5/7 over after round 4 on Wednesday, a rest on Thursday and round 5 today. Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu continues to lead, as he has the entire event, but now he has company. After three rounds he was alone in first with 2.5/3, but was caught in round 4 by Vladimir Kramnik and in round 5 by Fabiano Caruana. Let's review the action.
In round 4 Nisipeanu had Black against Ian Nepomniachtchi, and after a slight advantage see-sawed between the two players Nepomniachtchi was the last player to get an edge, but it was unusable. An extra pawn in a rook + three vs. rook + two ending with all the pawns on the same side is almost always drawn, and this wasn't a difficult hold for Nisipeanu.
Meanwhile, Kramnik managed to keep just enough tension in the position to outwit Georg Meier, who yet again lost half a point or more from a good position. Meier played the Anti-Berlin line 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.Re1, which looks unpretentious but isn't as insipid as it seems. Kramnik did manage to equalize, but in his desire to push for a win he had to take some fairly serious risks. Meier enjoyed a clear advantage leading up to the time control, and had he played 35.R5e4 or 35.gxf4 Rxf4 and then 36.R5e4 things might have turned out differently. When the time control came the position was about equal, but the danger was mostly on Meier's side. The game was lost in one move: 50.Ke2; after 50.a4 it would remain equal, and there were other moves that would have kept the game going. Such collapses are very possible in complicated positions, even after the time control; in fact, Kramnik lost in similar fashion in round 5. More on that later; for now, Nisipeanu and Kramnik were the co-leaders with 3/4.
Fabiano Caruana also gained ground on Nisipeanu, winning his second straight game to get to half a point out of first. His victim was Arkadij Naiditsch, who was only a little worse until he played 25...Bxc5; it would have been better to play 26...Rc8 straight away rather than doing so after swapping the bishops. The difference was that Caruana anchored the rook on c5 with 27.b4, and when Black traded rooks White had a passed pawn. Not all was lost until Naiditsch played 35...a5, however; 35...e5 or 35...Kf6 followed by 36...e5 would have kept the game going. In the game Naiditsch quickly lost a piece, and that was that.
Finally, Hou Yifan and Wesley So had an interesting battle in a Classical Caro-Kann. Hou was starting to outplay So, but 31.Ka2 allowed a nice tactical sequence that led to a draw.
On to round five, when the marquee matchup with Kramnik - Caruana. The opening was a Fianchetto Gruenfeld with ...c6 and ...d5 which quickly left theory. (That's probably a good thing, as the variation tends to be pretty dull.) Kramnik's whole plan with 12.Re1, 13.Bxe4, 14.Nxe4 and especially 15.Qc2? was a bit of a disaster, and from there on out Kramnik was pretty much reduced to swindle mode. Remarkably, his resilient play succeeded and when Caruana played 23...e6 Kramnik had made it back to objective equality. Not practical equality, as the burden on him to find the right moves was more difficult, but objective equality was a real achievement. He kept up his end of things for a good while, but eventually things went astray. First, it's pretty difficult to make a move like 28.Kd4!, but the idea is that if 28...Qg2 White now has time to take on h6 and give perpetual before Black mates White's wandering king. Even so he was still alright until move 31, when 31.Nd2 fatally weakened his king. He needed to play either the greedy 31.Rxc5 or 31.Qe5 followed by 32.Rb8, simplifying the position for the sake of the king. After his error Caruana regained the initiative, and the rest was one-sided.
Kramnik had won three in a row, but that streak came to an end with Caruana's third straight win. As a result of the latter's win he leapfrogged the former and found himself tied for first. His co-leader, Nisipeanu, had White against Meier, but got little from the opening and the game was clearly, almost self-evidently headed for a draw as soon as move 18. They continued until move 42, surprisingly (even if they're using the Sofia rules players in such contexts normally construct some sort of repetition to get the thing finished), but there could never have been any doubt, especially after the rooks came off at move 30.
In the other games, So beat Nepomniachtchi on the white side of a King's Indian-turned-Modern Benoni. So's kingside play was gaining ground, and the end was expedited by Nepo's inaccurate exchange sac before the time control. Finally, Hou Yifan drew in a good fight with Black against Naiditsch. She equalized and then some early on, and it seemed that she would have enjoyed some advantage with the obvious 17...Nd3 (instead of 17...Na6). Her not playing that was rather mysterious, but even so she was doing fine for a very long time. Finally, somewhere in the second time control, she got into a little trouble in a major piece ending. Had Naiditsch played 54.e4 he would have enjoyed decent winning chances. Fortunately for Hou he didn't, and she wrapped up the draw confidently after that.
Here are the pairings for the penultimate round, tomorrow:
- Caruana (3.5) - Hou Yifan (2)
- Nepomniachtchi (1.5) - Naiditsch (2.5)
- Meier (1.5) - So (2.5)
- Kramnik (3) - Nisipeanu (3.5)